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Book 3, Chapter 60 - The Third Uncle

 The Crimson One fused with the roiling tempest to become a behemoth of flame. With his left hand he stopped the attacks from Ravenous Tiger and Blackfiend, while with his right he grabbed Selene's burning sword. Through his overwhelming power and terrible presence, the Crimson Once instilled a deep fear in all who looked upon him.

The bone armor protecting Blackfiend burned away and the all-pervasive fires devoured what they could. He was sent flying.

Suddenly, the piercing cry of a bird captured the giant's attention.

A giant phoenix awash in fire came into being, summoned by Selene Cloude. It crashed into the giant's chest resulting in an explosion that shook the form of the Crimson One hidden within. The bishop's face was pale, haggard. Blood continuously trickles from his mouth. The injuries he'd suffered were the kind he would never recover from, so the load from Selene's attacks was almost more than he could bear. The wasteland's tyrannical holy man was nearing his end.

Its large hand loosened. The blazing crimson sword buried itself in the giant's form.

As the tip drove toward the waning figure inside, the giant's left hand swung around to press against the right, palm to palm, with Selene's crossblade caught between. The sword stopped mere meters from the Crimson One's body.

Selene's raven hair danced in the unnatural wind. She heaved against the giant's grip with all her might, forcing the sword deeper inch by inch. The giant's malevolent green fires continued to spill toward her, but could not find passage through the dawnlight shell the old man protected her with. The two were caught in a test of mettle, and only the one who could hold out longer would survive.

The Crimson One was incredibly strong - far greater than anyone would have imagined!

A rapid surge of power pulsed through the giant, and with this power Selene's sword was engulfed and broken apart. The young demonhunter flew helplessly through the air, spitting voluminous blood from her mouth. In the instant the giant was spent, and dispersed. The Crimson One, framed by a sky all aflame, raced for Selene as she fell out of control.

This girl was the only one of this small group who was a threat to his life.

It was a critical moment. The Crimson One had once more managed to protect himself from their concerted attack, but it had cost him. Wounded, drained, he had to destroy at least one of them before they could reconvene for a second attempt. He would not survive another attack like the last one.

"Not good!"

The old man's eyes went wide and fear painted his face. Selene Cloude was in a fatally dangerous circumstance.

The bishop soared above her, fires gathered in his right arm. He reached out with claws of green fire to snuff out this one beautiful life, and in that moment he caught the girl's gaze. The priest froze.

Although she stared death in the face, there was no fear in the girl's eyes. What he saw was an unbreakable will, and iron resolve. It was born from an inherent pride, and the belief that although she faced destruction she would not be defeated. People like her possessed unyielding spirit, and a proud heart like hers would never break.

The image of a figure draped in snow white crossed the bishop's mind. The look in their eyes was so similar. Their kinship was unmistakable.

The Crimson One had his arm raised to take the girl's life, but in this moment he hesitated. It less than a second, half a breath, but then suddenly everything changed. His reverie was broken when he sensed a powerful force descend on him, a sense of danger that raced through his body like an electric current.

What power! It had been no less intense than the sword Selene had nearly used to run him through.

The Crimson One's face stiffened. He couldn't tell where this attack came from. His four opponents had been knocked away and couldn't have rallied a counterattack of this intensity so fast. Was there someone else? Another master hiding in the shadows? When the bishop turned his eyes toward the source of the threat, they fell upon a figure he'd neglected up to this point.

Cloudhawk had risen to his feet, with the exorcist bow in his left hand and the bow drawn taught with his right. A light blazed against his chest, infusing him with a hurricane of energy. A spear of coalesced energy was aimed his way.

He could feel it. Cloudhawk's arrow contained more sheer power than any attack the Crimson One had faced so far. Enough to split mountains, crumble valleys, shatter the sky.

One chance. One shot. Cloudhawk's opportunity was now.

For all his strength, in this moment the Crimson One was a spent bullet. The four he'd defeated had spent everything within them and were left with nothing. They were helpless and exhausted, incapable of fighting back.

The Crimson One was the same.

Every man had their limit.

It was likely Cloudhawk was worn out as well, yet as the Crimson One and the others warred he had been gathering strength. The bishop's brief moment of hesitation was a moment too long, and now it was too late.

Cloudhawk's scream blasted like thunder through the settlement. "Die!"

The string went slack, the arrow loosed.

In the moment the arrow was released Cloudhawk's exorcist bow shattered. Every once of lethal force it contained sheered the air on its way toward the Crimson One.

Extraordinary... that this young, wounded man could yet produce an attack of this quality. Excellence. Whether the power behind it or the precise timing, it was masterful. The Crimson One could find no flaw in it.

Autumn stared at the Warden in silent astonishment, stunned by the power he had hidden within him.

Nearby, Ravenous Tiger stared in open shock. If the Crimson One survived - a man so dreadful he made his heart race - then he was doomed. But just as it seemed that would be his fate, this arrow from the darkness emerged emerged, poised to save them all.

The old man's face was lit by the blazing arrow as it streaked past. "Good lad. Well played."

The Crimson One tried to gather his fires into his hands, yet they withered and died instead. Blood continued to leak from his mouth as truly all his strength was spent. It seemed to happen in slow motion; the arrow reached the bishop, colliding with his tattered robes and ripping through it like a blade. He flew backwards.

Light consumed him.

The world disappeared.

The old holy man's mind was vacant in this briefest of moments. How could it be that he would meet his end at the hands of a cripple and his young friends? Especially Selene, and that other young man. Indeed the younger generation was a promising one. With such incredible talent on the horizon, Skycloud need not fear for their future dominance.

Too old. But no... I cannot die yet.

Arcturus, the sanctimonious fool. Seated in his gaudy mansion. So long as that dog reigns, the elysian lands were doomed. Humanity is doomed. How could these young warriors, intrepid though they were, defeat such power? I cannot die. Whatever it takes, I cannot die!

Cloudhawk's arrow crashed into him, ready to pulverize the Crimon One's body, when -

Something was released from within him. Some strange power that wrapped him in its sheltering embrace. A faint outline appeared that exuded a vast and noble majesty, like the face of god. Cloudhawk's arrow struck the golden figure with such force that cracks ran all through its frame, ultimately causing it to fragment and disperse.

The Crimson One hit the ground like a butterfly with broken wings, leaving a smear of blood along the ground.

Another crippling wound, but the bishop yet lived. The mighty protective relic he bore had saved him.

"Immortal effigy!" For the first time Selene's face betrayed true surprise, for she knew this relic. How could she not? It was a treasure of her family. It had been in the possession of her third uncle. "You are Sterling!" [1]

Ravenous Tiger's face was a mask of anger and fear. The old man watched with dumbfounded amazement. Cloudhawk was stupefied, so much that his mouth hung wide open. What the actual hell?

Skycloud's three master demonhunters were legendary, names that resounded across the lands. Was this one of them? Was this Sterling Cloude?

The story went that Sterling Cloude was severely wounded in battle several years ago. His injuries were so bad that he was forced to resign from his post as Knight-Commander. Since then, he was never seen in Skycloud again. Cloudhawk had suspected the old drunk was Sterling. Obviously he was crippled by something, and the injury had stolen a lot of strength from him. He was also clearly an old master from the elysian lands. But he was wrong, incredibly wrong. The red-robed bishop was the one and true Sterling Cloude.

The Sanctum of Judgment was the church he created to combat Arcturus, his brother.

The man they had been fighting all this time and still could not defeat was a legendary master demonhunter!

It should come at no surprise that the fight had nearly ended them. A master demonhunter was capable of defeating demons single-handedly! Though not in peak form, it was clear from the way he fought that the master demonhunter had recovered much of his strength. With Castigation fire he was all the more terrifying to face. Nearly dying was to be expected, for he was one of the greatest demonhunters to have ever lived after all!

Selene clenched her fists. "My father died at your hands?!"

The bishop's body was a mass of blood and bruises. It wasn't even certain he heard her until he began to laugh, like he'd heard the world's funniest joke.

Selene's fury bubbled over. "Answer me!"

The half-mad old man opened his mouth, perhaps to respond.

But Ravenous Tiger couldn't stomach any more. He would never again sleep easy so long as this old bastard lived. Brandishing his ax, he threw himself at the Crimson One to try and end the monster once and for all.


Selene had been blindsided by the revelation that this man was her uncle. She couldn't watch him die before she got the answers she so desperately needed.

"Ravenous Tiger... You are... such a disappointment to me." A golden aura flashed around the Crimson One and the fat governor shot back like a bullet. Another round of hacking, bloody coughs wracked the bishop's body. He hardly had the strength to speak. "Be at ease, my dear niece. I will not accept death... not until Arcturus has ceased breathing. But I think... I have had enough for today."

With that the bishop rose off the ground, then soared toward the horizon swift as a bird.

Ravenous Tiger's eyes were so wide his lids might split. As they all watched the Crimson One escape all the strength drained from the survivors. Selene made as though to give chase, but her body refused. Wounded and drained, it was questionable she could deal with her uncle even if she caught up to him.

Cloudhawk made his way to her side and held her fast. "Don't try to chase and corner a wounded animal. Let's regroup and plan our next move."

While the others struggled with what they'd learned, Squall came to his senses. A hard light entered his eyes as he looked toward Autumn. His shout rang out through the ruined outpost. "Everyone, now's the time! Grab the girl!"

Bandits began to scramble from the smoldering debris.

Seeing this, Cloudhawk erupted into a string of curses. "Fuck your dead whore mother, Squall! You sackless piece of dog shit! I swear if I get my hands on you, I'll rip you limb from fucking homeless limb!"

"Words are cheap, Cloudhawk. Come find me, if you can." Squall was not bothered by the Warden's brutal tirade. "I'm here for the girl, and anyone who wants to stop me is welcome to try."

Ravenous Tiger snapped out of his fearful trance. His mind spun, looking for any straw to clutch so he might survive the Crimson One's inevitable fury. Going back to Fishmonger's Borough was a death sentence, so his one chance was the girl. Millennium Vale was protected by enchantments - spells that he could hide behind to keep him safe from the Crimson One, even Arcturus himself.

"Attack! Get her!" Ravenous Tiger called for his men. "We need her no matter the cost! Bring me the girl!"

The white-haired swordsman and a dozen other soldiers from Fishmonger's Borough charged into the fray. Squall and Blackfiend answered with a hundred bandits under their command. Both groups charged at Cloudhawk and their small group. Things were dire - Blackfiend was enough of a challenge to handle Selene, and Ravenous Tiger had shown he was able to hold his own against the old man at the best of times.

That left Cloudhawk to take care of a dozen elite soldiers and a hundred bandits all on his own. He could tell that the ones from Fishmonger's Borough - including the white haired freak - were troublesome all on their own. The Highwaymen also had Green Snake and that weirdo Gremlin to contend with.

What goddamn nonsense! It was too much for Cloudhawk to handle even if he was in perfect health!

1. OH snap!